Saturday, 30 January 2010

Chocolate Buns

This was the January challenge from Fresh from the Oven. I was very nervous about it: I had never made creme patissiere before, let alone anything that you had to roll up and slice before baking. But I loved the idea of the chocolate buns and was pretty excited to have a go.

I was very grateful that the instructions were so reassuring about kneading the dough. I probably had to knead this for at least 20 minutes before it was manageable, but it did eventually get there. It needed a lot of space - I had to clear the toaster, the fruitbowl and the bread bin off the work surface to get it all laid out.

The creme patissiere was great, much easier than I thought it would be. Having done some research, I've found that the flour stabilises the eggs so they don't curdle. The vanilla pod just makes it really lovely. I didn't add the cocoa to the custard because I wanted the creaminess, and I thought it would be a bit too chocolatey.

The other thing I found was that there was so much creme patissiere, I only really needed half. Perhaps I didn't stretch the dough out wide enough though. And chopping the rolls up was messy.

But the biggest reason why I won't make these again is that I don't know when to eat them! They're not dessert, they're too rich for breakfast and too big for a snack! The best time was on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee when you're having a late lunch. But that's only once a week. And I made 24!

Chocolate Buns

250g full fat milk
15g fresh yeast
500g strong bread flour
60g unsalted butter at room temp
40g caster sugar
10g salt
2 large eggs
25g good quality cocoa powder
200g chocolate chips, milk or plain, or a mixture
2 eggs beaten with a pinch of salt for an egg wash

Creme Patissiere (recipe follows)

15g cocoa powder

Pour the milk into a pan and warm gently until it is about body temp - it should feel neither warm nor cold when you dip your finger into it.

To mix by hand, rub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Rub in the butter, then add the sugar and salt, then the eggs, milk and cocoa powder. With the help of a plastic scraper, lift the dough onto your work surface. Even though the dough will feel quite soft and moist (and look like thick, sticky porridge) do not add any flour to the work surface.

Begin to work the dough, slide your fingers underneath it like a pair of forks, with your thumbs on top, swing it upwards and then slap it back down, away from you, onto your work surface (it will almost be too sticky to lift at this point). Stretch the front of the dough towards you, then lift it back over itself in an arc (to trap the air), still stretching it forwards and sideways and tucking it in around the edges. Keep repeating this sequence.

As you work the dough it will start to come together and feel alive and elastic in your hands. Keep on working until it comes cleanly away from the work surface, begins to look silky and feels smooth, firm but wobbly and responsive.

Now you can flour your work surface lightly, place the dough on top and form it into a ball by folding each edge in turn into the centre of the dough and pressing down well with your thumb, rotating the ball as you go. Turn the whole ball over and stretch and tuck the edges under. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 45 mins in a draught free place.

Make the creme pattissiere.

Once the 45 mins are up, use the rounded end of a scraper, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, with a rolling pin, gently flatten it into a rough rectangle. Spread the chocolate creme patissiere evenly over the dough and sprinkle on the chocolate chips. Starting with one of the longer edges, roll the dough up until it resembles a Swiss roll. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 2cm slices and place them on their sides on a baking tray. Glaze with a little egg wash and leave to prove for 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 hours until the buns have roughly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 250C.

Glaze again and put into the preheated oven, turning the heat down to 180C. Bake for 10-15 mins. As the chocolate dough is quite dark it can be difficult to tell when the buns are properly baked, and you need to take care not to under bake them - the best way to tell when they are ready is to lift one gently with a spatula and check that it is firm underneath.

If you don't want to bake the buns all in one go, you can freeze some. When they are cut, just before proving, put them on a small tray in the freezer and when they are hard put them into a freezer bag. To use them, take them out, leave to prove overnight and bake in the same way.

Makes 24 buns

Creme Patissiere

In a bowl whisk together 6 egg yolks, 70 g caster sugar and 50g sifted flour. Put another 70g sugar into a saucepan with 500g (500ml) full fat milk, a vanilla pod split lengthwise and seeds scrapped in and the remaining cocoa powder. Place over a low heat. Leave until the first bubble appears, then remove from the heat. Whisk 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture, then add the remaining 2/3 of the milk and stir again. Pour back into the pan and put back on the heat. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of mins, stirring constantly to ensure that the cream does not burn on the bottom. Pour into a dish to cool. Sprinkle a little icing sugar or flakes of butter on top to prevent a skin forming.

from 'Dough' by Richard Bertinet

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A spicy chilli for a chilly day

Yesterday, we went into the Peak District to enjoy the snow. In Manchester, it's getting grey and sludgy, but out in the hills, there is a pure, white, unspoiled blanket of snow. It curves and undulates, creating a bleached, almost desert-like landscape. The sky was a clear, bright blue, and the brilliance of the snow was spectacular. We climbed up Mam Tor, where we could see right out across the hills. Gorgeous.

We got home tired, wet and very, very cold. Tim's scarf had actually frozen in place. So we needed something warming and filling. Chilli it was.

For a long time, I wasn't keen on chilli. Maybe it was the spice, maybe it was the beans. And although I wouldn't say it's my favourite now, it has definitely grown on me.

I also made a cornbread, which is something I have wanted to try making for a while. I saw the packed of cornbread flour in Tesco's, and threw it in to the trolley. It made the chilli a real treat.


2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 red pepper
500g miced beef
1 tin chopped tomaoes
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp tomato puree
125ml water
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 red chilli

Chop the onions and fry them gently in some olive oil. Add the garlic and the spices and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Chop the pepper and add to the onion. Add the minced beef, breaking it up in the saucepan. Brown the minced beef and then add the tomatoes, the ketchup, the puree and the water. Bring the mixture to the boil. When it boils, sprinkle over the cocoa powder and stir well.

Leave to simmer for at least an hour. Around 10 minutes before serving, finely chop the red chilli and add to the meat, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the dish.

Serve with rice, and cornbread if you like. Scatter some finely-chopped chilli on top of the meat.


1 egg
125ml yoghurt
2 tbsp oil
30g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
250g cornmeal

Whisk together the egg, yoghurt and oil. Then sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Finally, fold in the cornmeal. Pour and scrape the mixture into a tin (I used a 20cm round silicone tin, which was perfect) and bake for 25 minutes at 200C.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Cranberry and Orange Muffins

I had these on my 'to-bake' list over Christmas, but after spending most of Christmas Eve in the kitchen, I couldn't face doing them. The snow has kept me off work today and yesterday, so I had a chance to make them.

I made them with 150g fresh cranberries, which was delicious, mostly because I had the packet in the fridge. The muffins themselves were really light and not too sweet. I had run out of muffin cases so I buttered the inside of the muffin tin. It seemed to work and at least you don't get the rubbish!

Christmas Morning Muffins

200g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
75g demerara sugar
good grating fresh nutmeg
1 clementine or small orange
approximately 50ml milk
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
150g dried cranberries

12-bun muffin tin

for the topping:

2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 200ÂșC/gas mark 6.

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar, and grate over a generous amount of fresh nutmeg.

2. Squeeze the orange or clementine juice into a measuring jug, then pour in milk on top till it comes up to the 150ml mark. Add the melted butter and the egg, and beat to combine.

3. Pour the jug of liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir till the ingredients are more or less combined, remembering that a lumpy batter makes light muffins.

4. Last of all, lightly fold in the cranberries and fill the muffin cups. The amount of cranberries specified here makes for heavily fruited muffins; if you want them sparser, use half the amount.

5. Mix together the demerara sugar and ground cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.

6. Stick them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Thali Cafe

I was listening to Radio 4 yesterday and happened to catch a repeat of their Food and Drink awards. When the award for Best Takeaway was announced, I was really pleased to hear that the Thali Cafe in Bristol had won.

The Thali Cafe has a brilliant take-away system, which we enjoyed when we visited my sister-and-brother-in-law last year: when you buy your curry, you buy a 'Tiffin' Take-Away tin, which holds three curries and a portion of rice.

What a great, eco-friendly idea! No waste, no sticky leakage, and the food stays hot. Plus, the menu and the food are delicious. If you're in the Bristol area and fancy a curry, please go there!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Or, rather, a post on hopes, dreams and plans for the next year.

Last year was crazily busy. This time last year, I wasn't even engaged, let alone married. Over the course of 2009 I've got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, been a bridesmaid for my sister, moved house and done all the normal things of having a fairly stressful, high-pressure job. For most of the year, I've been running around looking slightly like a headless chicken, sorting out venues, invitations, furniture, plastering walls, planning, marking, rushing, rushing, rushing.

So this year, I would like a little bit of consolidation. A little bit of stability. A little bit of rooting. Not that I want to sit around and be boring. But a chance to spend my free time doing things that I am interested in, looking at the options, trying new things. I would like to make the most of my evenings, weekends and holidays. All the general stuff that fills up the weekends, like sorting out your car insurance or cleaning, I want to get that stuff out of the way so that I can do stuff I really enjoy. I guess it's about time management. I guess it's about prioritising. I guess there is a little bit of organisation hidden in there somewhere.

There are a few areas that I want to focus on. They don't mention losing weight or getting fit. It's more about expanding horizons. I'd like to take control of our garden. At the moment, it has some lovely decking. And then it has a long stretch of scrubby, scruffy grass. With a shed plonked right in the middle of it. Even if it only means I have something more interesting to look at when I'm doing the washing up, it'll be better than it currently is, and it might mean that I gain some skills in the process.

I'd like to climb a mountain. Not a particularly big one, but one that I've chosen to climb, rather than be dragged up it by parents or teachers. Perhaps it's a sign I'm becoming a grown up.

I'd like to become a more adventurous cook. There are some things that scare me in the kitchen: Oysters, Souffles, Jams, Offal. So I'm going to try to tackle these fears.

And I'd like to become a slightly better blogger. I'm going to aim for twice a week, but I may not make it. After all, I can't let it take over my life now, can I?